Reality-Based Trade Showing: The FMI Show

May 10, 2002
George Anderson

Every May, thousands of grocery retailers, suppliers and various others make a pilgrimage to the FMI (Food Marketing Institute) Show in Chicago. These travelers come from around the globe in search of new ideas and ways to build business. Some walk away from the show happy for the experience while others are less enthusiastic. This year was no exception.

Observers said that floor traffic was lighter than in the past. Unofficial
numbers place the attendance decline in the area of 10 percent. Fewer international
visitors and industry consolidation were reasons cited by FMI for the lower
attendance numbers. Michael Sansolo, executive vice president, FMI added, “Domestic
retail and wholesale attendance actually compared very favorably to last year.
It was off by a much lesser percent just single digits, probably three, four
percent. On a basis of domestic attendees versus the exhibitors, there was actually
improved density.”

Bill Bishop, president, Willard Bishop Consulting agreed, “Don’t let the lower
numbers mislead you. There was more positive energy at this show than at any
in the last 20 years.”

Mr. Sansolo added, “The volume on the floor matters. We know that. But, what
is really important is the quality of the visits you get. Our constant goal
has to be to make sure we have quality people out there who have an agenda.
They are making the kinds of connections to help the member build business and
give the supplier a reason to say that this show is worthwhile.”

A new feature of this year’s show were team rooms set aside by FMI for retailers and wholesalers that brought large numbers of people to Chicago. Ahold, Fleming, Supervalu and Wal-Mart were among the companies that made use of this option. Mr. Sansolo offered that one of the retailers taking advantage of the team rooms, “used their people to really comb the floor, identify folks and set-up appointments with them. So, they’re using the show the way we want them to use it which is get a sense of what is out there and try to hone in on the people to do business with.”

The difference between a good and bad show for exhibitors is largely dependent on what’s on offer at a booth. “There were some folks who I talked to that had wonderful shows,” said Mr. Sansolo. “They attributed it, very distinctly, to having something they were showing in their booth that they felt was very new or unique. Three examples I would give. One was a baking goods company that was showing off new, boutique kind of gourmet bread and how they could be more easily made in stores. One was a frequent shopper program with some new twists and one was an equipment supplier who simply had some new devices to improve cleanliness with the machines. In all three cases, they said they even heard complaints from people around them yet they had fabulous shows. All three said they thought it was because their booth said something very new, something distinct and helped them get their message across.”

  • By George Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, RetailWire

Moderator Comment: What were your impressions of this
year’s FMI Show? [George
Anderson – Moderator

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